Travelers flock to Florida for its pristine beaches but many are missing out on one of the country’s most historic towns, St. Augustine, located just 30 minutes south of Jacksonville on North Florida’s first coast. It was Ponce de Leon’s quest for the Fountain of Youth that led him to Florida in 1513, and today, this is one of St. Augustine’s most popular attractions. Decades later in 1565, Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés established the Oldest City, which celebrated its 450th anniversary in 2015. The Spanish influence is still prevalent all over the city through the architecture, food, and cultural attractions. Visitors will feel as though they are transported to another era.
Much of the historic district is walkable, although the old trolleys and horse-drawn carriages are a great way to see the city. You’ll find both tourists and locals strolling St. George’s Street, the city’s historic district lined with cobblestone streets, quaint outdoor cafes, and offbeat artisan shops.
St. Augustine has become somewhat of a school field trip mecca, allowing students to experience the country’s history up close and personal. The city’s top attractions offer a glimpse into Old World life.
Castillo de San Marcos is one of the iconic historic structures of North Florida constructed by the Spanish between 1672 and 1695. You can listen to park ranger talks, enjoy the green park surrounding the fort, and watch reenactments and weapons demonstrations in period costume.
Fort Matanzas guarded St. Augustine’s waterway as the conflict between European nations raged. The ferry ride across to Fort Matanzas gives visitors a chance to enjoy the natural scenery that surrounds the Matanzas River.
St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum offers the world’s largest collection of authentic pirate artifacts and interactive exhibits.
Built in 1887, the Lightner Museum features costumes, furnishings and other artifacts from 19th Century daily life.
Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is the original site of the nation’s oldest city. Located on 15 beautiful waterfront acres, you can see the real Spanish watchtower, the Menendez 1565 settlement field, and a 600-foot founders riverwalk.
Oldest House Museum is Florida’s oldest Spanish colonial dwelling and a National Historic Landmark.
Old Florida Museum is St. Augustine’s only hands-on, interactive history museum. Guests can experience life in this time period through the tools, weapons, and homes featured in the museum. Hour-long educational programs on Timucuan natives, Colonial Spanish Florida, early Florida pioneers, and archeology are also available.
Fort Mose Historic State Park is the first free African settlement in North America and a premier site on the Florida Black Heritage trail, the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation by over a century. Fort Mose was the northern defense post for St. Augustine.
The city’s only luxury hotel is an attraction unto itself. Situated in the heart of the downtown district and just steps from the Matanzas Bay is the historic Casa Monica Hotel. Built in 1888, the hotel opened with only three guests and struggled through its early years. Rough times forced the hotel to close in 1932, and it then served as the county courthouse for three decades. In 1997, The Kessler Collection acquired the property and, following a $10 million restoration, Casa Monica Hotel debuted once again as the luxurious destination it is today. It is also home to the Grand Bohemian Gallery, an in-house art gallery that showcases local and international artists’ work including paintings, sculptures, ceramics and jewelry.
The moment you step into this Mediterranean revival-style building, you’ll know you’re someplace special. The lobby transports you to an ancient era with Moroccan frescos, exquisite tapestries and luxurious chandeliers that feel more like a palace than a hotel. But don’t let that fool you – the hotel is blessed with the best of all modern day amenities. Each of the 138 guestrooms has its own unique style with furnishings and décor fit for a king and queen. If you’re feeling especially royal, the suites are the way to go. The Ponce de Leon Suite is a two-story tower suite with a striking, wrought iron four-poster bed and panoramic views of the historic district and St. Augustine’s picturesque bay. The Flagler Suite is a luxurious three-story tower suite with two bedrooms and a living room offering views of the magnificent Lightner Museum. The third floor bedroom features colorful glasswork windows from the hotel’s original construction in 1888.
Spanish fusion cuisine
St. Augustine is a true culinary adventure as many rising chefs have descended on the city because of its welcoming mix of cultures – everything from Spanish to Cajun to Caribbean.
Columbia Restaurant is one of the city’s oldest and most popular restaurants achieving recognition as “One of America’s Most Historic Restaurants” by USA Today. The Spanish/Cuban menu features Paella a la Valenciana, Red Snapper Alicante, Pompano en Papillot, Roast Pork A la Cubana and other international flavors.
The Floridian is an old-school restaurant featuring “Innovative Southern Fare” like grit cakes, fried green tomatoes, local shrimp and St. Augustine’s prized Datil peppers.
Michael’s Tasting Room is a contemporary Spanish restaurant serving traditional and inspired tapas, paired with an award-winning wine list. Appetizers include queso Manchego and ceviche tostones while main courses feature Spanish preparations of chicken, shrimp, lamb, lobster and more.